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A New DNA Test Could Tell You How Well You’re Aging

A new method known as telomere tracking aims to redefine the conventional understanding of aging by measuring cellular age. The new test could completely reshape preventative health screenings and inspire a healthier lifestyle.

August 24, 2017

4 Min Read
A New DNA Test Could Tell You How Well You’re Aging

Kristopher Sturgis

When it comes to getting older, most people know the list of conventional health markers to monitor as we age to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We measure things like blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rates, and cholesterol levels to gain a better understanding of how our bodies are responding to the aging process. But what if there's a better way to track how well our bodies are coping with time?

Telomere Diagnostics, a relatively recent startup from Silicon Valley, believes they may have found the most important metric yet.

The company's new technology, known as TeloYears, is a simple DNA test designed to calculate cellular age by measuring the length of telomeres, a unique DNA sequence that forms at the end of chromosomes. These telomeres begin to shorten as we age, and scientists have found that other things like stress, lack of sleep, smoking, and a poor diet can make them shorten faster--meaning that telomeres can indicate just how well the body is aging at a cellular level.

The new technology was developed at the company's CLIA-certified lab. Telomere Diagnostics CEO Jason Shelton believes that the new genetic test could have a significant impact on how we measure health and age by identifying risk factors for things like heart disease and other vascular diseases.

"We'd like to carve out a space for telomere testing in key consumer and clinical areas, including preventative health improvement through inspiring healthier life choices, reclassifying risk of coronary heart disease through relevant physicians, and potentially more in other clinical areas," Shelton said. "It could have a tremendous impact because it can help reclassify the risk of the leading cause of death in the U.S."

Jue Lin, PhD, a research biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco and cofounder of Telomere Diagnostics, has spent the last 12 years researching telomere maintenance as a biomarker for aging and age-related diseases. Lin and her team worked to develop TeloYears as a suitable measurement technology for large scale clinical studies, and has spent years examining the role of telomere length in health and human diseases.

"TeloYears is a simple DNA test that uses a few drops of blood collected at home, and lets you track your cellular ages based on telomere length," she said. "Shorter telomere length is associated with risks for many age-related diseases independent of other risk factors. Recent studies also indicate that lifestyle changes such as meditation can lead to telomere lengthening. People who are interested in knowing this important biomarker of aging, as well as how aging relates to disease and wellness, and are motivated to make lifestyle changes to improve their health, should have their telomere length measured."

Lin says that the TeloYears technology is unique in that it only requires a few drops of blood from a finger prick, and can be done at home without requiring patients to travel to a clinic or testing lab to have blood drawn. It also signals a significant step toward personalized medicine, allowing patients to assess their own personal health risks and act accordingly.

"We are now living in the era of personalized medicine, with medical decisions, practices, interventions, and products tailored to the individual patient based on their individual risk of disease," Lin said. "Studies in the past decade established telomere length as an important piece of the overall assessment of an individual's risk for many diseases. We believe that integrating telomere length in the personalized medicine practice will fundamentally change the way each patient is managed."

As Telomere Diagnostics moves forward with the technology, Shelton said that the company's goal is to become the world's leader in telomere length measurement, and eventually make telomere measurement as standard as a cholesterol test in a physician's office.

"In the not-too-distant future, our goal is that every time a doctor orders a cholesterol test for HDL and LDL, they will also order ATL (average telomere length)," Shelton said. "For more than two decades, telomere length has been well established in clinical literature as an important biomarker of overall health. Only now are we making it broadly available to those who take a preventative approach to their health by tracking their health and fitness. Unlike other trackers, telomere length is more personal because it's not just what you do, it's who you are at the level of your own DNA, and this part of your DNA can change." 

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI

[Image courtesy of TELOMERE DIAGNOSTICS]

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